Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Pasco firm offers a more sophisticated kind of house-sitting

Homeowners have long entrusted a friend or the kid down the street with a few bucks and the responsibility to watch their house while the owner is away.

Dean Thomas believes there's a need for a more sophisticated house-sitting service.

In February he started a business called Thomas Home Watch, which provides a whole host of services to vacationers and snowbirds leaving their homes in central and east Pasco.

Outside he checks for things like debris, landscaping, or sprinkler problems, vandalism and storm damage. Inside the house, he inspects for pests, odors, mold and leaks. He runs the water, keeps an eye on appliances and lights, and waters the plants. Thomas also offers handyman services when needed.

He acts as the eyes and ears of the homeowner, sending them regular reports, complete with photos, to let them know how their house is doing.

Thomas, who owns an unoccupied home in Costa Rica, sympathizes with absentee homeowners' plight.

"I worry about it," he said. "You're not sure of who you can trust to really take care of it."

Thomas, 47, has a degree in business management from the University of Central Florida, as well as experience remodeling and maintaining his five rental properties in Pasco for the past decade. With the help of his uncle, Harold Thomas, he built the home in Wesley Chapel where he's lived for the past 13 years.

"This is right up my alley, to put it simply," Thomas said. "This has been a perfect, natural fit for me to do this. It's kind of what I've done my whole life."

His service is the only one in Pasco to be accredited by the National Home Watch Association.

"We do have a lot of seasonal residents in this area, and a lot of people who take extended vacations who could benefit from having a trusted professional come in," Thomas said.

Pasco County could be fertile ground for a home-watch business.

More than 15,000 Pasco homes belong to owners with an out-of-state address, according to property appraiser records. That number reflects investment owners who rent out the property and seasonal residents. Snowbirds often enlist their neighbors to house sit, but Thomas said neighbors may not be trained to know what to look for, aren't licensed, bonded, or insured, and can't be available to give updates regularly.

As with any startup company, though, success depends on providing a service the market needs. John Copeland, a member of the Lake Heron Homeowners Association and president of the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations, said his wife and two friends started a similar business in Carrollwood 17 years ago, taking care of clients' pets and homes while they were away.

"Because we traveled a lot and one of the other women traveled a lot, they knew there was a market out there," said Copeland.

But even though the women saw a need, their business struggled. They had no more than a dozen customers over the course of their two-year run.

"Conjecture would say that they didn't market it broadly enough," he said. "They were all based in Carrollwood, so that was where they wanted to find customers."

Thomas Home Watch serves a broad area, including Land O'Lakes, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills, Dade City and San Antonio. Thomas is a member of the Dade City Chamber of Commerce and has spread the word about his business through advertisements in homeowners association newsletters and targeted mailings to communities like Lake Jovita, Lake Bernadette and Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club. In the future, Thomas says he would consider expanding to Hillsborough County.

Once the real estate market evens out, a home-watch business might also find clients among homeowners who have moved away while their Pasco County home remains on the market. But there aren't many homes like that now, said Ed Anderson, president of the Central Pasco Association of Realtors and broker and owner of Action 100 Realty. Many of the empty homes now are bank-owned foreclosures and short-sales — instances where the owners wouldn't be interested in paying a service to watch the property.

The small amount of homes that are available, he says, are being snapped up by big investor companies, who plan to rent them out.

"He's got a great idea, but I think it's probably something (for) maybe a year from now, when we get more real properties, and less of the investors," Anderson said.

Thomas has just started building his business, but believes it will grow if he provides a needed service that people can trust.

"They're giving you the keys to their house, that's why you have to make sure to do business with honesty and integrity," he said.

Samantha Fuchs can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235.

Comments
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Published: 12/14/17
Local widowers say baby powder caused their wives’ cancer

Local widowers say baby powder caused their wives’ cancer

Two Tampa area widowers whose wives died of ovarian cancer are suing Johnson & Johnson, joining nearly 5,000 other plaintiffs across the country who blame their illness on the daily use of the pharmaceutical company’s talcum powder.Bryan Isa’s wife, ...
Published: 12/14/17